AJ Allmendinger Wins NASCAR Cheez-It 355, Regan Smith Drives For Tony Stewart

AJ Allmendinger took the checkered flag in today’s NASCAR Cheez-It 355. It was his first win of the season and put him in a good position to make the Chase for the Cup. Marcos Ambrose came in second place, with Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, and Carl Edwards rounding out the top five.

The race had a record tying seven cautions.

Tony Stewart sat out today’s race after his involvement in an incident that left 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. dead. Local authorities are investigating the incident, but at this point have said they have not yet seen evidence of a crime and are treating it as an accident. Regan Smith drove the number 14 car in Tony Stewart’s place. Smith spent most of the race in the middle of the pack after starting at the back with Danica Patrick. His race ended on after being bumped by Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth in the 82nd lap.

Stewart-Haas racing representative Greg Zipadelli has this to say about it, according to a report on NASCAR.com:

“We know that it’s just an unbelievable tragedy. Our hearts go out to obviously Kevin and his family, thoughts and prayers. This is a very tough, very emotional time for everybody, his family, our family at Stewart-Haas, Tony Stewart. So with that being said, we feel that as a group, Tony will not drive today. Regan Smith is on his way up.”

Marcos Ambrose ran a tough race, staying in the top five for most of the race until being sent to the back on a restart on lap 55. He quickly worked his way back to the front, running tight with A.J. Allmendinger for several laps. His crew informed him around lap 63, when he was running second behind A.J., that Allmendinger didn’t have enough fuel to finish the race, leaving him in a good position to win. Ambrose was still looking for his first Sprint Cup series win this year. He has had significant success at Watkins Glen in the past, finishing an average of second place. Ambrose’s crew later backtracked, saying that Allmendinger had enough fuel, but was running on old tires.

Ambrose was still running second when Josh Wise spun out, leading to the race’s fourth caution on lap 78. On lap 80, all drivers except Allemdinger and Marcos Ambrose — both of whom were still looking for their first Sprint Cup win of the year and trying to secure a spot in the Chase for the Cup.

Ambrose pulled ahead of Allmendinger after the restart with five laps to go. He led briefly before the seventh caution was called while he was fighting off Allmendinger, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch, leading to a red flag while still on lap 86. Allmendinger went into the caution with the lead, Ambrose in second.

The final restart occurred with two laps remaining. Ambrose pulled ahead, but in the end, Allmendinger outraced him, pulling ahead in the last lap on the way to Victory Lane. In his victory speech, AJ Allmendinger gave credit to his team and recognized all of NASCAR’s sorrow over the loss of Kevin Ward Jr.